Britain’s chief rabbi expressed dismay Tuesday at the Labour Party’s suspension of London’s former mayor, saying that the fact that Ken Livingstone wasn’t expelled was a failure to the UK Jewish community.
The UK Labour Party suspended Livingstone for one year for comments he made last year about Hitler supporting Zionism after a disciplinary committee found those remarks “grossly detrimental” to the party.
A year ago, as the Labour Party was grappling with a series of gaffes deemed anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic, veteran leftist Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive, claimed that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Livingstone also charged that for decades in the UK there had been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led a host of Jewish groups who fumed at the Labour Party Tuesday for what they perceived was a light rebuke of Livingstone.
“This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate willful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community, by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offense,” Mirvis said in a statement.
“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism,” he said. “The Labour Party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.”
Jewish groups, who had been calling for Livingston to be expelled, called the move “deeply disappointing” and said it would erode the fractured trust between the party and its Jewish members.
“Given that Ken Livingstone has been found guilty, we are deeply disappointed at the decision not to expel him from the Labour Party. A temporary suspension is no more than a slap on the wrist,” the Jewish Leadership Council said in a statement.
“Livingstone’s antagonistic attitude towards the Jewish community has been longstanding and has had a huge impact on Jewish people,” the group said. “This decision makes us question if the Labour Party wanted to repair its historic and long-standing relationship with the Jewish community.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community have reached a new all-time low,” said President Jonathan Arkush.
Paul Charney, head of the Zionist Federation, said Livingstone’s punishment “serves only to drive a larger and more robust wedge between our Jewish community and the Labour Party.”
“The comments made by Mr Livingstone regarding Hitler and Zionism bear no resemblance to the truth and are a disgrace to the values he and his party apparently hold,” Charney said in a statement.
The Labour Party panel that decided Livingstone’s fate technically leveled him with a two-year suspension, one year of which has already been served, according to the Guardian.
He was charged with “engaging in conduct that in the opinion of the National Executive Committee was prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party.”
Last week, Livingstone caused fresh uproar by claiming that German Zionists received assistance from the SS and were close collaborators of the Nazi regime.
Livingstone’s case was heard by three members of an 11-member Constitutional Committee. Two lawyers, one retained by him and one by the Labour Party, cross-examined him and a number of witnesses: Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, the only Jewish affiliate to the Labour Party, and five members of the activist group Jews for Justice for the Palestinians (JfJfP), described by Livingstone as “leading Jewish members of the Labour Party.”
This was slammed by the mainstream Jewish community who have said that JfJfP is not representative of Anglo-Jewry. However, lawyer Michael Mansfield, representing Livingstone, tried to persuade the panel that the views of “Livingstone’s Jews”, who included a 93-year-old Berlin-born Holocaust survivor, Walter Wolfgang, were as equally representative of Jewish feelings as those of the Board of Deputies or the Jewish Labour Movement.
Livingstone, who had expected to be expelled from the party and had planned to fight expulsion through a judicial review, seemed pleased with the verdict, calling it “pretty fair,” the Guardian newspaper reported.
“Have I said anything that wasn’t true? All the Jewish activists who spoke on my behalf yesterday, all actually confirmed what I said was true.”
While the suspension is seen as a blow to the man who been a member of Labour for half a century, the Jewish Labour Movement reacted to the verdict with dismay, saying it was “a betrayal of our Party’s values,” and allowed for “a revolving door for repeat offenders.”
“It simply can’t be acceptable that there can be some kind of revolving door policy, that you can revise the history of the Holocaust, duck out of the party for a year — and then come back,” said Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. He described the suspension as “a betrayal of our party’s values” and called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to make a hard and fast ruling of “zero tolerance” on anti-Semitism.
Paul Charney, chairman of Britain’s Zionist Federation, said: “The fact that Ken Livingstone remains a suspended member of the Labour Party and was not expelled at today’s hearing serves only to drive a larger and more robust wedge between our Jewish community and the Labour Party. The comments made by Mr Livingstone regarding Hitler and Zionism bear no resemblance to the truth and are a disgrace to the values he and his party apparently hold.”
Added Charney, “Where Labour had an opportunity to make clear that antisemitic slurs made by Livingstone have no place within our society, they instead showed that when it comes to Jews, liberal standards are readily set aside.”